The Best Things in Cannon Beach

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The best things in Cannon Beach include surfing and whale watching. Located in the Pacific Northwest, Cannon Beach is easily recognized by the iconic Haystack Rock, one of the tallest intertidal monoliths in the world. Haystack Rock is flanked by sea stacks, which is terrific fun for families as the tide pools that surround the rock are rich with sea life, such as sea anemones and crabs. Ecola State Park, home to a gang of elk, offers dramatic coastal hiking with viewpoints delivering staggering ocean views. And, yes, a herd of elk really is called a gang!

An eclectic mix of art galleries and specialty shops line the downtown area of Cannon Beach. And some of the best eats on north Oregon’s coast are available in trendy downtown bakeries and restaurants.

One of the best things in Cannon Beach is exploring around sea stacks and Haystack Rock that lie just offshore
One of the Best Things in Cannon Beach – exploring around the sea stacks © Linda Sheppard

The Best Things in Cannon Beach – By Season!

Cannon Beach and the surrounding area are a four-season destination with endless year-round adventures. Wind and waves strengthen in winter, providing the best storm-watching opportunity. Also, whale watching is popular in winter, with gray whales migrating south in mid-December from the Bering Strait.

After a day on the beach, enjoy a delicious meal featuring wild-caught seafood in one of the local restaurants or pubs. Such a perfect way to spend a winter day!

Spring for the Sand Castle Contest

On of the Best Things in Cannon Beach is the view of iconic Haystack Rock which is a massive intertidal monolith

Cannon Beach’s Iconic Haystack Rock seen from the Gardens

© Linda Sheppard

The Cannon Beach Sand Castle Contest is held each spring and is the most Instagrammable day of the year. The contest began in 1964 when a tsunami—caused by an earthquake in Alaska—destroyed the vital Elk Creek Bridge. Locals created sand castles to entertain the children when travel was interrupted. Today, the Sand Castle Contest is an Oregon Heritage Tradition, with plenty of opportunities to participate. Locals, visitors, and professionals have five hours to create masterpieces on the beach and watch the high tide waves reclaim the works of art after the final judging. Make reservations in advance if you want to be part of the fun!

Summer Most Popular Time to Visit

Of course, summer is the warmest time for hiking, so dress accordingly. Ecola State Park is an excellent recreation site at the north end of Cannon Beach. There are breathtaking beaches to discover, miles of trails for exploration, and a spectacular view of the Tillamook Lighthouse. Known as “Terrible Tilly” because of the harsh conditions lighthouse keepers endured, the lighthouse is an impressive sight. Pack a picnic, sit on a grassy bluff, and watch Bald Eagles soaring over the Pacific Ocean. Sea stacks rising from the shoreline will make you wish you could paint the scene on canvas! And, while pets are welcome, they must be leashed at all times.

Fall May Be the Best Time to See Cannon Beach

Fall offers fresh salty air, beautiful beaches, and world-class photo opportunities. Beachcombing is one of our favorite things, as crashing waves deliver treasures. Cannon Beach acquired its name from the shipwrecked USS Shark’s cannon that washed ashore in 1846. You never know what you might find buried in the sand!

Red Entry doors (open) to the DragonFire Gallery
DragonFire Gallery © cannonbeach.org

Also, Fall is the perfect time to enjoy the thriving art scene and take a self-guided gallery tour to visit over a dozen galleries near Hemlock Street, the main street in Cannon Beach. According to Americans for the Arts, Cannon Beach is one of the top 100 art towns in America. Be sure to put DragonFire Gallery on your must-visit list.

Another draw for art lovers is the Stormy Weather Arts Festival, held in early November. The festival features gallery events, artists in residence, painting classes, and free musical performances throughout the town. Be sure to stop at the Cannon Beach Chocolate Café, where they melt rich Columbian chocolate in milk for the most decadent cold-weather drink you’ve ever tasted!

Where is Cannon Beach, Oregon?

Cannon Beach is a small coastal town off the legendary Pacific Coast Highway. Highway 101 runs through Washington, Oregon, and California. Starting in San Francisco, you can take an epic car trip through the wineries of Northern California and on to Humboldt Redwoods State Park. You will see a forest filled with the world’s largest old-growth redwoods at the park. Next, visit Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area for an unforgettable dune buggy adventure. And in Florence, visit the fantastic Sea Lion Caves. Exploring America’s largest sea caves provides thrilling adventures for all ages.

Golden Sunset over the ocean seen from nearby Lincoln City
Sunset in nearby Lincoln City © Linda Sheppard

Heading further north towards Cannon Beach, you will arrive at Depoe Bay, where you can enjoy some of the best whale watching in Oregon. Between June and October, a pod of 200 gray whales resides in this area. The staff at the Whale Watching Center can help you spot marine life from their viewing deck year-round; you might see humpback whales, blue whales, orcas, porpoises, and dolphins. Just 20 minutes further north, Lincoln City has a beautiful wide beach where you can search for hidden glass floats and watch jaw-dropping sunsets. These bucket-list locations make this road trip one of the best in the United States!

For quick access to Cannon Beach, the closest airport is Portland Airport (PDX). Air Canada, Alaska, American Airlines, British Airways, Delta, Southwest, and other airlines service the airport. The easiest way to get to Cannon Beach from the Portland Airport is by rental car; the trip takes two hours without stops. A car is also the best way to explore the pinch-me-I’m-dreaming coast and visit the area’s state parks.

Best Places to Stay in Cannon Beach, Oregon

Stephanie Inn

Stone fireplace in the lobby of the Stephanie Inn, surrounded by couches
Stephanie Inn Lobby © Linda Sheppard

Stephanie Inn offers superb boutique luxury with coveted waterfront views toward Haystack Rock. Plus, the hotel offers all the amenities discerning travelers expect. Rooms have spacious soaking tubs and fireplaces, and you will find ample lounging decks where salty sea breezes brush your face.

The Inn’s award-winning restaurant was recognized in Food and Wine’s The Most Romantic Restaurant in Every State, and for good reason! It offers a gourmet chef’s breakfast buffet with fresh local products. A seasonal prix fixe five-course dinner is also available with wine pairings. In addition, the hotel has complimentary Northwest wine and beer tastings in the cozy oceanfront library!

Another treat, you will find an in-house spa where you can luxuriate, relax, and rejuvenate. The Stephanie Spa offers romantic couples’ massages, hot stone massages for total muscle relaxation, and precious babymoon massages for mothers-to-be. And there are body polishes, reflexology treatments, and body wraps to take your getaway to a new level!

Cannon Beach Hotel

The Cannon Beach Hotel’s gray shingled exterior, white trim, and black awning, exudes historic New England-style class. Situated in the center of this little town, it is close to restaurants, shops, and galleries and is only a five-minute walk to the beach.

Erected in 1914 as a boarding house for employees of the Van Vleet Logging Company, the boutique hotel has been meticulously updated and is now a Unique Inns member. Each room is uniquely and perfectly appointed, with period-tiled bathrooms, sumptuous mattresses, and luxurious bedding. Try to book Room 7 for a view of Haystack Rock. This room features an opulent black four-poster bed with a breakfast tray ready for in-bed dining!

Ecola Creek Lodge

The Ecola Creek Lodge, with its own New England charm, is one of the sweetest places to stay and one of the most reasonably priced in town. Although it is on the edge of Ecola State Park, it is only a five-minute walk to the beach or town. And you will enjoy the serene gardens with its peaceful koi pond and picnic area.

The rooms at the cedar-clad lodge include vintage studios with iron beds and large family suites with kitchens.Remember to request a room with ocean or creek views. This hotel graciously welcomes gentle pups but requires them to be leashed, since elk drink at the stream in front of the lodge.

Best Things to Do in Cannon Beach

people walking on Cannon Beach, seen from Stephanie Inn
Cannon Beach from the Stephanie Inn © Linda Sheppard

Cannon Beach has activities for everyone, with miles of beaches and hiking trails. Wildlife, such as rowdy sea lions and silvery seals, is prolific, and viewing is accessible along the rugged coastline. Also, the little town features shops and galleries to keep you entertained.

Beach Lovers

Haystack Rock, a 235-foot-tall sea stack towering over the beach, is fascinating to explore up close. Tufted puffins and other sea birds frequently nest on the giant rock. Plus, tidal pools at the base provide a view of colorful anemones, snails, crustaceans, and small fish. The tide pools protect these creatures from crashing waves, hungry birds, and the hot summer sun. Pick up a tide report from the Visitor’s Centre or on their webpage so you can visit at low tide for the best experience. Remember, keep pets leashed on beaches.

Cannon Beach filled with people racing on Bikes with Fat tires
Cannon Beach Fat Bike Festival ©cannonbeach.org

Fat biking is a growing sport. The extra-wide tires provide excellent traction on sand, allowing further roaming opportunities along the Pacific Ocean. For example, consider visiting in spring to join the Cannon Beach Fat Bike Festival, which includes a group ride, beach races, and finishes with a toasty bonfire on the beach!

Wide open beaches and constant breezes make kite flying a delight for kids of all ages. So, bring your kite or purchase one at one of the many stores.

Surf’s Up

Section of Cannon Beach from a high viewpoint
Dexter Says Go to Shorty’s to Surf © Cleanline Surf

Surfers and wannabes should head to Cleanline Surf at 171 Sunset Boulevard. Meet with the staff who can set up lessons and fit you in the best gear. And they can tell you the best beaches for the current weather and tide conditions. Also, they will gladly offer tips on staying safe while having an adrenaline-pumping experience. The manager, Dexter, says beginners should stick to Indian Beach or Short Sand Beach (also known as Shorty’s, Smuggler’s Cove, and Oswald West State Park). Or, you can rent a standup paddleboard to float or paddle on nearby rivers. Tell Dexter I sent you!

Nature and Wildlife

Whale watching brings locals and tourists to Cannon Beach’s viewpoints, where you can watch the migration of the enormous gray whales measuring up to 50 feet in length. Their twice-a-year migration between their calving grounds in Mexico and the Bering Strait brings up to 20,000 gray whales past whale-watching points along the coast. Resident whales, known as the Pacific Coast Feeding Group, can be viewed from June to October. The Pacific Northwest is one of the best places for nature lovers!

Bird watching is a favorite pastime of Oregonians, and can become your new hobby too! At least one billion birds and over 500 species migrate along the Pacific Flyway from Alaska to Patagonia, South America. And many of them fly through Oregon and along the coast in spring and fall. So, watch for Snow Geese, Golden Eagles, and Short-eared Owls who are making this challenging journey. In addition to your camera, take your binoculars for whale-watching and bird-watching!!

Best Places to Eat in Cannon Beach

Pelican Brewing is one of the best places to eat in Cannon Beach. Located in the center of town in a handsome grey wood building, the pub offers a spacious indoor eating area with a modern industrial feel and an enormous colorful mural of iconic Haystack Rock above the open kitchen. And the outdoor seating area is perfect for a meal if you travel with pets.

The coastal-inspired menu takes full advantage of local produce and wild-caught seafood. Choose the Fish and Chips for three pieces of fresh Pacific Ocean Cod lightly battered in Kiwanda Cream Ale and crispy panko crumbs. The large serving of beer-battered fries, delicious coleslaw, and homemade tartar sauce will have you wondering why you should bother with the rest of the menu.

But as satisfying and tasty as the F & C are, you should look at the other entrees offered. For example, the Cauliflower Steak, seasoned and pan-seared with red pepper and salsa, will satisfy any vegan.

Of course, every pub offers flatbreads (pizzas) and burgers. Try the Poblano Chicken or Bacon Brie Hazelnut flatbreads paired with red or cream ales or the Pelican Pilsner. The all-local products make a burger not only a no-brainer but also a mouth-watering option!

Among selections on tap, you will find Superswell Double Pilsner, Raspberried at Sea Ale with Raspberries, Sea’N Red Irish-Style Red Ale. And, if your hotel is within walking distance, as most are, take advantage of all these Oregonian products and order their flight of eight. No driving required!

And, why not finish with a Chocolate Stout Float? Pelican Brewing’s award-winning Tsunami Stout is served with a large scoop of creamy local vanilla-bean ice cream and topped with whipped cream, caramel, and chocolate sauce!

Whiskey Bar Serves Food, Too!

Macgregor’s Whiskey Bar is in the heart of Cannon Beach. They offer a daily Savory Pie, Lobster Bisque, and a Smoked Honey Goat Cheese and Chutney Board. One of the best things to try is the Northwest Board, which includes smoked salmon, dried cherries, locally aged white cheddar, and a fresh baguette.

Their craft cocktails include The Glasgow with Isle of Jura Scotch, vermouth, Peychauds bitters, a Green Chartreuse rinse, and dark cherry; Storm over Paradise mingles rum, fresh lime juice, and mango puree with a spiced rum float; yes, they were good!

Plus, there is an impressive list of flights available, including the Oregon Whisky Flight, Glenmorangie Flight, and the Japanese Whisky Flight, all served on a whisky barrel stave. Macgregor’s knows its whisky; it is a great place to try a new one! Check their current hours at www.macgregorswhiskeybar.com.

Cannon Beach Wine Stop

Make sure to pick up a bottle at the Wine Shack before returning to your hotel. The store has a great selection of local wines, including their Puffin label. Or sit in the Puffin tasting room to experience wine by the glass or flight. In fact, their popular charcuterie boards are well worth trying!

Best Day Trips from Cannon Beach

surfboard leaning on grey building
Surfboard at Seaside Cleanline Surf ©Cleanline Surf

A short drive to Seaside is an excellent idea if you have children. Seaside is only 11 miles north of Cannon Beach. And, it boasts a boardwalk where you will find everything from saltwater taffy and candied apples to video arcades.

While there, you can rent an e-bike, tandem bike, or a bike-trailer combo for the kids. Pack water and sunscreen, and ride to the Turnaround at the end of the Lewis and Clark Trail, a national historic site. Plus, the giant bronze statue of Lewis and Clark facing out to the ocean is an excellent place for a family photo!

The small Seaside Aquarium has many local fish and sea creatures, and your kids will have a great time touching the starfish and sea urchins in the petting tank!

In addition, take advantage of the Necanicum Estuary for wildlife viewing, watch surfers at Surfer’s Cove, and let the kids ride the carousel at Seaside Carousel Mall.

Surprising Views

To see the Columbia River divide Washington State from Oregon, drive 17 miles north past Seaside and cross the Astoria-Megler Bridge. This bridge was the final section of Highway 101 completed between Olympia, Washington, and Los Angeles. Crossing this bridge was one of the best things we did on our Highway 101 adventure. Amazingly, the bridge exceeds 4 miles and is the longest truss bridge in the United States. It seems to go on forever!

To experience another gorgeous beach, drive south for five minutes to Hug Point State Recreation Site. Here you can walk to a beautiful waterfall, explore the caves and admire the rugged cliffs. A warning, though, keep your face to the ocean here; high tides can leave you stranded.

If hiking and exploring wood-scented parks is your passion, drive south another fifteen minutes and explore Tillamook State Forest for an afternoon of forest bathing, swimming, or fishing. And, visit the impressive Tillamook Creamery to indulge in their signature cheeses or ice cream. Try one of their yummy Oregon hazelnut or Marionberry cones!

The Best of Cannon Beach Will Bring You Back

While the top draw of Cannon Beach is the imposing and magnificent Haystack Rock, there is so much more to love about Cannon Beach. The skies over the Pacific Ocean are full of seabirds. Of course, the tufted puffins win everyone’s hearts with bright orange beaks, often dripping with herring. And whale watching is a life-changing experience, so visiting during the migration is worth enduring the cooler weather. Majestic Roosevelt Elk and deer graze near the town, especially in Ecola State Park—sometimes, you can see them right from your car window!

This small town oozes charm; the shops are full of local artists’ beautiful work, especially spectacular glass artwork at Icefire Glassworks. The pubs serve cold brewed magic, and restaurants bake and grill fresh local seafood. You have seen the iconic photos of Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach. Now come and experience it and everything else Cannon Beach offers. You may have your best beach holiday ever at this great destination.

Haystack Rock viewed from balcony of the Stephanie Inn
Cannon Beach Stephanie Inn with View to Haystack Rock © Linda Sheppard

Read about more amazing trips – and start planning your next vacation! You could cruise to Alaska, travel to Italy, or jet off to Christmas Island!

2 Comments

  1. Jo Clark

    What a unique spot to vacation! Our beaches are rock-free here in South Carolina!

    Reply
    • Linda

      Yes Pacific Coast beaches have rocks and a lot of logs!
      Families love to make beach huts out of the logs. It’s a great place to get out of the sun for a while and play forts!

      Reply

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